Buck Mad, a short story by P Kearney Byrne
Longlisted for Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award: a frank tale of a gay relationship by an award-winning Irish writer
When he phoned me up, and I heard that voice like it was yesterday, couldn’t I smell that leather jacket again and the Major smokes, see his green eyes, as if he was right there beside me?
And the hotel kitchen is hot, the smells of meat and pizzas and chips, I’m barging around like a donkey, sliddering on the greasy floors, sweating like a navvy, scramming all night, kitchen porters is the lowest of the low, the stenchings off the lot of us like cattle, no tips out the back for us lot, out front there’s tips makes it worth your while, back here we get nothing, in the cubby for the breaks, and there’s always one who wants to come out the yard for a smoke, always one that wants it down behind the stink bins overflowing, his cock is out, my cock is out and it’s done quick for getting through the rest of the night, later there’s up at the Foggy Dew or Bartley Dunnes, then the Hirschfield thumping music, more sweat and tumbling into the streets, swilling with pints, shitting yourself after that lad got done in at Fairview, wiped the fucken shine off late night cruising that’s for sure, cos I’ve seen every class of cock in every class of cottage over the last couple of years and you can bet those cunts that bate him had their cocks stuck deep in some buck’s tonsils a few hours before, and maybe it’ll just fucken kill me altogether, the tearing around, it’s like being in love for five minutes with a gobful of cock, then it’s all over and I’m on my way, I say it’s great and it fucken is, so I don’t know why I rang him, I could have asked Da or the brother, they’d have picked me up at Dromod station, but it’s him I wanted to see because it was simple back then, it was just him and me, though I thought I’d never get to Dublin, get cock and more cock, as much cock as I could gobble, give as much cock as I got, that’s all grand until some lad gets his lights kicked out and he doesn’t make it home and it’s not a near-fucken-miss but kills him stone dead, his blood slipping out of him in the black night, then you see how narrow the scrapes are, bating it full tilt down the alleys with my cock still out and a pack of queer-bashers after me, it’s not funny then, that’s why I rang him to see if I could go home and just talk maybe, just have a fucken chat like, talk to someone who knew me back before I came to cock-city, someone with a head on him and a normal life, no-one chasing him through his dreams, smashing his ribs in ten minutes after they’ve eaten the cock off him, just a straightforward thing where maybe I could talk, so I rang him, he answered the phone, like I knew he would, I heard his voice and I said to him will you pick us up at Dromod tomorrow night, will you, he says something I don’t know what, I said it again, will you pick us up from the station tomorrow night, I’d love to talk to you I said, just a chat like we used to have, then I’m on the train heading home and this fucker up the carriage gives me the quare-eye, so I follow him to the jacks and it’s cock-city again on the train rattling along I think somewhere outside Edgeworthstown and sitting in the seat after, thinking back to the chats him and me used to have, how I remembered that we did used to chat, him and me, there was the other stuff, but we did used to chat, up there behind the grounds back out in the meadow, that’s why I said it to him again so he’d know what I meant, pick us up would you from the station, it’s just I’d like a chat.
Here’s me like a fool, waiting for him, watching for the yellow light to show up on the tracks, away out past Rooskey, coming from Longford, but hiding away from the little platform, stopping in the car till the last minute before the train comes in, and maybe I won’t even get out the car, just sit here, let him find me, why did I say I’d pick him up here anyways, on me own, not saying anything to Patricia, as if there was any harm in it, or any guilt remembering what him and me got up to back then, before there was names for it even, and why didn’t I say anything to her, what would I call it anyways, just picking him up from Dromod, and she’d ask what is it you want with that buck, I’d say nothing, just picking him up from the station is all, she’d say what is it you’re at, I’d say nothing, there wouldn’t be any words for it, just like there wasn’t any words back then, though poofter and queer was around a few years later, that’s what they all said about him after he’d left, that poofter, that queer, but back then it was just a thing we did, him and me, knowing not to tell anyone, funny how you know, though no-one’s ever told you what you’re doing even exists, never mind is a sin, you just find out for yourself, it’s the feelings that drives the thing, all those feelings pent up, wanting to burst out, all it takes is a can of cider and a summer night when the other lads don’t turn up, later he tells you he never asked them to come anyways, and you’re there talking, sitting on the low wall behind the grounds with the stink of silage and slurry and God knows what else, then you move back into the meadow away from the slurry stink, away off behind, and lie down in the grass, smoking and chatting, and none of it, not the cider, nor the scent of the meadowsweet, nor the cigarettes, nor nothing else, can keep away the smell of him in his jeans and his shirt, and that jacket he used to wear, a leather jacket, wherever he got it, no-one else had anything the like, the malty smells of the leather, maybe that was it too, the leather belts my father had that I loved to sniff at, children are always up to something, when Patricia and I have them, please God they’ll be normal, not like this fella, up there in Dublin doing God-knows-what to God-knows-who, his parents too afraid to ask him who his friends are, if he has a wan, is he doing a line or what, and me half afraid to ask him too, on the phone, listening to his voice, wishing he’d called someone else, not come back at all even, him knowing well that me and Patricia is engaged, what’s he doing even asking me to meet him, it’s how he always was though, cheek, saying it straight out, like he did that night, just saying he wanted to ride me, we were talking about trying to get the ride, how hard it was to get any of them to drop the hand, I meant the girls, or at least I think I meant the girls, wasn’t that what everyone meant, wasn’t that what all the lads talked about, getting them to drop the hand and give it a pull, the best option, but near as good was if they let you put the hand up, or down, anywhere you could get at them under their school jumpers or their blouses and tops, or behind the disco, up against the wall, he says, I’d do it for you right now, he says, I didn’t even ask what, sure I knew well what was coming, then I knew I’d known it all the time we were sitting there drinking and smoking, him lying back in the grass on his elbow, looking up at me, the green eyes squinted from the cigarette, and he was brave, oh he was always brave like that, saying it out, and it made me blush like a wan, he must’ve known then that I wanted it bad from him, or from anyone is what I told him later, but then it was from him, God forgive me, I don’t know how he managed to go from there on the grass to up close beside me, the roughness of his face and his hands and every wet dream I’d ever had come true there and then, how sickened I felt right after, sick to my stomach, and he knew, oh he knew well what he’d done to me, tricked me is what it felt like, tricked me into being my own self for a minute is what he said, but that’s all the old rubbish he used to tell me, that I wasn’t being my true self, not like him, not like him at all, I had no balls is what he said, no balls, I’d stay here forever, marry some wan with a big arse and a pair of tits, have the reception in Clears Hotel like everyone else, have her calving every year until she’s done in and there’s nothing left of me except a pair of boots, a few yanks of baling twine and a rusty Massey Ferguson, the land gone all to shite, so I says to him, I always says to him, there’s nothing wrong with that, he says not if it’s honest there isn’t, but if it’s a bare-faced lie and a coward’s way out, what’s that only no balls, that’s what we said every time, every time he asked me did I want to go up behind the grounds, every time we did it, and there were plenty more times after that first sweet one up there in the meadow behind the grounds, when he phoned me up, and I heard that voice like it was yesterday, couldn’t I smell that leather jacket again and the Major smokes, see his green eyes, as if he was right there beside me, and it was all them years ago all over again, I should’ve told him to fuck off with himself, get someone else to pick him up from the station, and I didn’t, I said right, what time, I was stiff as a bull when I put the phone down, and sitting here now nothing will keep it down, he’ll get off the train, and whether I’m in the car or out, he’ll know by the look on me the horn I’m after getting for him, he’ll say what are you doing bucko, what are you doing the night bucko, he’ll have the smokes and the cans in his bag, he’ll say are you married to a wan yet, I’ll say no, not yet, he’ll say will you come up for a blast then, up the grounds, we’ll have a few cans and a few smokes, yes, I’ll be driving him out to his home-place, I’ll see the turn for the road down by the grounds, I’ll try to drive past it, yes, he’ll say will you or what, I’ll look at him sideways, the leather jacket and the green eyes of him and yes, I’ll say, yes.
P Kearney Byrne has won the Francis MacManus (2012), Bryan MacMahon (2014) and WOW (2016) Awards. In 2013 she was longlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and was a finalist in the 2015 Hamlin Garland Award (Beloit Fiction Journal, USA). She has been published or has work forthcoming in Compose Journal, Vitality, Litmag and Per Contra. Kearney Byrne has an MA in Creative Writing from University College, Dublin and was subsequently awarded the John McGahern Award (2016) with a residency at Tyrone Guthrie Centre and an Irish Arts Council Emerging Writer Award (2017) to assist in the completion of a novel begun on the MA. Originally from Dublin, she and her partner now live in Co Leitrim in a straw-bale eco-house on nine acres of land. She is also a psychotherapist